|Western swing artists like Gene Autry, Jimmy Rodgers and Bob Wills have had a great influence on Woody Holler, above.|
Harkening back to a time when cowboys and their music ruled the airwaves and dance floors, Holler, along with Richard Moody on violin, Greg Lowe on guitar and Daniel Koulack on double bass - don't so much recreate the style of music known as western swing. Rather, they breathe new life into it.
But as much as he delves into the nostalgic roots of country music, Holler, whose real name is Darryl Brunger, doesn't just do it to put on a show. Rather, the traditional music he loves was something that just came naturally to him.
As he explained, growing up in rural Manitoba in a large family, getting together and making their own music was just part of any celebration.
"If you had an instrument in front of you, you'd play it," he said. "And then it was old-time music for me, and that crossed over a lot with the old cowboy tunes, like (by) Wilf Carter and Jimmy Rogers."
Holler also credits a neigbouring rancher who sang and yodeled with helping him discover more about the music.
"He had a pretty rough voice," he recalled. "But every once in while, mom and dad would take us to Old Mike's place down the road and invariably he'd pull out the guitar and start crooning away with these old cowboy tunes. I loved it."
With one album, the appropriately title Western Skies, to its credit - and another in the works - Holler and his band will perform at the Rotary Centre for the Arts' Mary Irwin Theatre on Thursday.
Although he later trained classically on violin, piano and voice, and has performed in opera productions under his real name since 1996, Holler's fondness for the early cowboy music is obvious, and infectious.
"I call it western swing for most folks," he said. "Just so they have a starting point to figuring out what we do. Hollywood was a really big part of music, so Gene Autry was a big influence of mine as well."
Western swing is loosely defined as a style of American country music that originated in the west and south, specifically Texas and area, in the late '20s among string bands. An outgrowth of jazz with European gypsy flavours, it was geared towards dancing, with an up-tempo beat, and hints of everything from polkas to swing and blues mixed in.
It was hugely popular in the '30s and '40s with groups such as The Light Crust Doughboys, Spade Colley and His Orchestra and perhaps the most famous practitioner, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys with its twin fiddle players.
"If you know Bob Wills, you know everything you need to know about western swing music," said Holler.
Since forming the band in 2009, Holler and his mates have toured Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, playing what he calls his "jazz from the saddle."
They've performed as house band for CBC Radio 1's Weekend Morning Show, and Holler and Western Skies was also nominated in the category of traditional vocalist of the year at the 2010 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
With his virtuosic band, Holler is able to pull off the intricate Western Swing arrangements with ease and plenty of panache. But, accolades and credits aside, this is a labour of love for Holler.
Whether it's crooning a western-style love song, pining for the high lonesome space of the open prairie in a ballad, cracking through an upbeat swing number by Bob Wills, or showcasing his virtuosic yodeling, Holler and his band are guaranteed to make audiences wish they were back in the days before Internet and satellite TV.
Holler's show, however, like the music itself from which he draws, is made up of different influences and he tries to bring that out in his performances.
"We start the show with some virtuosic yodeling and then swing it up a little bit with a gypsy jazz feel in there," said Holler. "And we mix it up with bit of cultural stuff â€¦ you never know what's going to come at you.
"By the end of the show, there's something for everyone. It's really accessible music and really enjoyable to listen to. It's all done out of love."
Opening for Holler is Dirt Road Opera, featuring former Cruzeros singer and Juno nominee Barry Mathers, along with Rachel Matkin on vocals and ex-Cruzeros Gary Smyth on guitar and drummer Jay Swetlishoff.
They'll play an opening set in the RCA atrium showcasing their own unique brand of alt-country, roots and Americana music, complete with four-part harmonies, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Who: Woody Holler and his Orchestra live in concert
Where: The Rotary Centre for the Arts' Mary Irwin Theatre, 421 Cawston Ave.
When: Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Free pre-show at 6:30 p.m. in the atrium featuring Dirt Road Opera
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at the door or $15 students. Available at the Prospera Place box office, online at selectyourtickets.com, or by calling 250-717-5304.
More info: woodyholler.ca.